Can I be a lech and a feminist?
June 19, 2012 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Can a hyper-sexed, promiscuous man also be a good feminist?

I keep wondering if this is worth asking, and I've come to my own conclusions on it, but I'm also constantly bothered by the question of "what am I blindly not considering here?" I'm asking in part as part of a writing exercise, but I wonder about this in ordinary life, too.

I've got a character in a story who's a nice, moral, honest guy who has the good fortune (or is it...?) to have women just throw themselves at him, and he has a hard time saying no. He's surrounded by enablers (like his fully-aware girlfriend) and conditions usually leave his logical arguments for refusal in tatters, leaving him vulnerable to his own libido. It gets lampshaded--it's ridiculous, and he knows it, and suspension of disbelief is already high in the story (fantasy piece, there's magic & such)--but despite that silly premise, I'm still trying to make his attitude realistic. He's no brain-dead frat boy.

FWIW, I don't think sex addiction applies here; he's concerned about his frequent inability to say no, but he's always up front about his conditions, relationship status, etc. Dishonesty is rarely at issue. He respects women for their brains, character, ability, etc., so it's not that... or can you have that dual attitude of "I respect women" and "I'll screw anything in a skirt?"

Is there a piece I'm not seeing here?
posted by scaryblackdeath to Human Relations (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That sounds a lot like Mikael Blomkvist from the Dragon Tattoo books: Larsson gets away with it because he's a bit of an author avatar and he does hang a bit of a lampshade on it.
posted by Oktober at 12:10 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

How does he treat his partners? Are the women in the story just meat to him?

Feminism /= Anti-Sex

From a female perspective, I don't see any contradiction between being promiscuous and being a feminist. From a male perspective things get a little weird, because I think the cultural default is that men thinking about women sexually is inherently disrespectful to women, that men are by default not feminist, and that the only way to depict a feminist man is to depict him as being sort of castrated and sensitive and deep, and not really sexual at all. BUT, I think there is a lot of room to depict feminist men in other ways, and I see no problem with making it clear in your story that this guy is a feminist and respects the women he has sex with.

A lot of this is going to depend on the storytelling. If the perspective is that this dude is being showered with sexual objects in the form of laydeeeeeeez, the takeaway is going to be "not feminist". If you make it clear that there's more happening here, and that your protagonist is a thoughtful and forward-thinking dude, then of course it's possible for him to be a feminist, slutty or not.
posted by Sara C. at 12:14 PM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]

There's nothing inherently unfeminist about polyamory.

However, I can see how readers might be... unconvinved? by a story where a character is so desireable he or she is constantly bombarded by requests for no-strings-attached sex. Depending on the skill of the writer, I might finds situations like "conditions usually leave his logical arguments for refusal in tatters, leaving him vulnerable to his own libido" to be misandrist.
posted by muddgirl at 12:14 PM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Having sex is not anti-feminist.
posted by Jairus at 12:17 PM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

It could be amusing if the women he's having sex with are using him for his body. They're the ones in control and he's the object.

Or you could do something unique and depict two consenting adults as two people who both want the same thing out of the encounter and neither one is using the other.

It's only sexist if the women are being used, not if they have sex.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:22 PM on June 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

Depending on the skill of the writer, I might finds situations like "conditions usually leave his logical arguments for refusal in tatters, leaving him vulnerable to his own libido" to be misandrist.

Yeah, I'd worry more about this, honestly. I've known/know lots of guys who will sleep with anything not nailed down (and is adult, human, and consenting!) who are perfectly good feminists.

But I'm always suspicious of tropes where the guy is in helpless thrall to his penis, to the extent where he has to have logical arguments against sleeping with someone rather than just saying "No, I don't want to" and that's that.

It's also a terrible cliche, and those should be avoided as much as possible.
posted by rtha at 12:25 PM on June 19, 2012 [14 favorites]

Is his girlfriend really okay with it, or is he hurting her and she is just not strong enough to DTMFA?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:26 PM on June 19, 2012

I don't really see anything inherantly un-feminist about the scenario on the face of it. You may get a couple of grumbles about "everyone throwing themselves at this guy" in the first place (stuff like "women don't all want sex all the damn time, you know"), which is something to consider - but it sounds like taking that out kind of dramatically alters what you're trying to write, so meh.

But nothing about the guy's behavior is "un-feminist" - the women are willing, he's being up-front about his entanglements,

(It sounds more like a "Marty Stu" situtation than an anti-feminist one, actually.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:26 PM on June 19, 2012

I know a significant number of very slutty feminist men.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:28 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

In real life: I think that's possible, yes. It would take a remarkable level of self-awareness and a magical ability to avoid getting into this "vulnerable to libido" situation with someone who wants more than just no-strings sex.

In a story, I think the risk here is that the situation sounds like a straight-up male fantasy. In order to avoid having the story read like porno-for-men, it particularly needs well drawn and interesting female characters whose points of view amount to more than their love of cock and their support for this lecherous character of yours. Otherwise you will end up reading like Heinlein.
posted by emilyw at 12:28 PM on June 19, 2012 [17 favorites]

I don't see a problem. In my experience, the men who have the most women throwing themselves at them, are men who really love women. They make women feel special and appreciated because they really feel that way, and they make that sparky connection so easily, and panties drop all over the place.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:31 PM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Is there some reason that all these women are throwing themselves at this guy? Because that just usually makes me roll my eye, especially if the guy isn't gorgeous or rich or powerful or somehow known to be awesome in bed -- like, here's Mr Average getting hit on by hottie hot supermodel after Oscar-winning actress after Mary Sue? Please.

It's not impossible, but it's really hard to do properly, and just because your character isn't sexist doesn't mean the story isn't. (Doesn't mean the story is! It can be done properly! It's just hard.)
posted by jeather at 12:31 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I might finds situations like "conditions usually leave his logical arguments for refusal in tatters, leaving him vulnerable to his own libido" to be misandrist.

I learned a new word today! Thanks, metafilter!

The situation is a little bit of "be careful what you wish for;" his wish-fulfillment has gone beyond the fulfillment of reasonable wishes ("I want true love!") and on to irrational ones that nobody ever actually expects to happen ("I'd go for that girl, and that girl, and that one..."). There are natural consequences--job loss, stalkers, and career restrictions (can't really be a cop/teacher/medical professional when your life is like this). But I feel like I've got all that down. Again, I'm wondering if I'm just missing a core moral quandary here.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:34 PM on June 19, 2012

No, I really don't think you are. Being a feminist man isn't about protecting consenting adult women from their own desires, it's about recognizing and fighting structural and everyday sexism, and about treating people well. I don't even see a problem with your character being sexually aggressive or doing all the asking. There are plenty of genuinely feminist men out there having lots of sex (often more sex than sexist men with nasty hang-ups about women), as explained by awesome folks above.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:42 PM on June 19, 2012

The situation is a little bit of "be careful what you wish for;" his wish-fulfillment has gone beyond the fulfillment of reasonable wishes ("I want true love!") and on to irrational ones that nobody ever actually expects to happen ("I'd go for that girl, and that girl, and that one...").

"Wish fulfillment" jumps out at me as a word choice; are you saying that in your story, this turn of events is because of some supernatural wish-granting means?

If that's the case, then fret not! You've already set up that this is an abnormal situation by using that very supernatural element, and that'll eliminate the "but women don't really throw themselves at men that much" because "oh, wait, yeah, this is fantasy already".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:45 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree that it's not a feminist issue so much as a suspension-of-disbelief issue. This is a very common trope, and I personally find it tiresome in the extreme. (It was a big part of why I was seriously underwhelmed by The Girl... series, for example.)

It really depends on what the purpose is. If it's to try to convince the reader that this is a charismatic, appealing person, then it's exactly the sort of thing I find unconvincing (it's like declaring that a character is The Funniest Guy in the World without actually being able to write side-splittingly funny dialogue for him.) If not (and it sounds like that's not what you're going for) then the real risk is writing stereotypical, unflattering, and/or unbelievable female characters for him to engage with. Or having him treat them in ways that are unfeminist, objectifying, or condescending (whether or not that's an in-character action, or just the story rolling so many women by that he is effectively behaving as if they're mostly disposable.)

tl;dr - it's not inherently unfeminist, but the way is fraught with pitfalls. Get a female first reader or three to check yourself if you're worried about it.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:46 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

It seems like the moral quandary has a lot more to do with how you write the story and the character than the events of the story. Like, is this going to have a jokey "all the men want sex all the time because they are such dogs, and it's so hiLARious when they get it!" feel? Or is it going to feel like wish-fulfillment for the male reader? What causes these women to throw themselves at him?

You might even consider the feminism angle from how you write the women - are they the equivalent of flavor-of-the-month single-episode love interests ("oh, this one is funny because he's having sex with a goth and last week it was a preppie!") Are they just props for the story?

And how do you handle the fantasy angle? In general in our society there are not hordes of straight women "using men for their bodies". We live in a world where all kinds of good and bad constraints keep that from happening - especially over and over again to one dude. How do you explain the world where this happens? If it's just handwaving so you can get to the sex comedy...well, that could be anti-feminist or it could be the equivalent of what is known as "porn without plot" in the fanfiction world and thus neither really feminist nor un-.

Did you ever read those godawful comedy 50s/60s fantasy stories by DeCamp and Pratt? There's a whole world of nudge-nudge-wink-wink sex comedy fantasy writing out there written from the "oooh, and the women in this world are lavishly endowed, don't wear bras and don't realize that their breasts bounce when they joust! Plus they all look like 50s cheesecake models except the elderly harridans!" angle, and it's....tiring. I mean, it's not intentionally unfeminist, it's just kind of a squick.
posted by Frowner at 12:48 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

(I'm assuming that this is a comedy and not a serious moral exploration of Being Too Hot For Your Own Good here. If it's a serious moral tale, you might want to watch a lot of Fassbinder - Querelle, perhaps.)
posted by Frowner at 12:49 PM on June 19, 2012

Didn't John Crichton have this problem?

Yes, you can be a very sexually active man and a feminist. I'd be careful about that "uncontrollable libido" business because it smacks of "men are animals and they're only after one thing." Your character may also be more believable as a feminist if you vary the acts so it isn't all P-in-V. Not that P-in-V is unfeminist, but you might want to show him interested in his partner's pleasure.

Also what Crabintheocean said.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:53 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I respect women" and "I'll screw anything in a skirt"
This is pretty much exactly how I would describe a good friend of mine. Women do, in fact, throw themselves at him. Yes, he is very charming, funny, and good looking.
Here are some things that I think contribute to allowing these things to co-exist:
1) He is very good at reading people. He doesn't hit on all women. For instance, he knows that anything beyond a very low level of flirtiness would make me uncomfortable. Thus, he doesn't make passes at me. Other friends are much more relaxed about things like this. He flirts outrageously with them.
2) He is totally willing to accept whatever level of friendliness/sex the other party is willing to provide. In addition to being good at gauging comfort levels, he doesn't push them.
3) He is genuinely a good friend to have, no matter your gender/orientation. He's a caring, fun guy.

So, yeah, I don't think the situation is at all unlikely.
posted by Adridne at 12:54 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sure; if part of feminism includes the assumption that there is nothing inherently bad, shameful or "slutty" about sex, then that assumption would and should apply equally to men as to women.

The real questions are whether that would be as acceptable in your universe if a women were doing this, whether women in your universe actually do do this, and whether the women involved are actual characters and not just nameless five-page-wonder groupies. (And, um, not to assume too much, but whether this guy is supposed to be an author avatar. Like the title: "Can I be a lech and a feminist?")
posted by dekathelon at 12:55 PM on June 19, 2012

I would also watch out for the "he's completely honest" qualification, as that is often a symptom, a bludgeon, and a smokescreen, albeit interesting as hell to unpack.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:56 PM on June 19, 2012

he's always up front about his conditions, relationship status, etc. Dishonesty is rarely at issue. He respects women for their brains, character, ability, etc.

Someone who is up front and respectful and honest is conducting themselves in a manner not incompatible with feminism. If you're honest, if you care about obtaining informed consent, and if you treat your partners respectfully and respect their agency, it doesn't matter if you have one partner or three hundred. A lot of this is in details so it's hard to say whether your situation applies; are women treated as objects? Things to be gotten?

But as long as they're coming at it as equals, then no. Feminism is about women having just as much right to sexual pleasure and fulfillment as men.

So can it work in real life? Sure. There are loads of feminist men who are all about communicating and obtaining informed consent and who also fuck a whole lot.

conditions usually leave his logical arguments for refusal in tatters

I sincerely believe that patriarchy hurts men too, and I also believe that the above is not something I would expect to see in a feminist story - that a character refuses sex but is argued out of it and just sort of has to acquiesce since stuff just keeps sort of happening to make it so he can't not have sex!

While the majority of anti-rape activism concerns man-on-woman rape (since that is the majority of rape that occurs), that doesn't lessen the negative impact of it when it happens to men. Here's the thing: You're describing a scenario in which it is not enough for a person to say they don't want to have sex. He is propositioned, and he has to have a logical argument for not having sex or he has to have it. And I get that he has a huge libido and all, but really - if this is anything other than a screwball comedy then I'd probably find it a little troublesome.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:00 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

to have women just throw themselves at him

So by screwing these women, he's respecting the autonomy of their desires. I am not seeing a problem here as long as he's being honest about his own boundaries.

You could read some John Irving. Serial infidelity by men who genuinely love women is an ongoing theme.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:01 PM on June 19, 2012

One way to make this work is to have the man be someone who actually treats all women (everybody, really) as actual entire people, all the time, without reservation. This is so rare, so refreshing, and it feels so damn good that large numbers of women would credibly find it hard to resist. Having the guy be merely average looking might actually help -- it's more likely that women would feel wary about being used by a guy who's compellingly attractive physically.

So instead of "women find him irresistible, and he likes having sex with them, but he's actually a feminist, really," make the feminism the basis of his irresistibility: "he treats women as real, actual people, which makes him irresistible." (If only we didn't have to venture so deep into fantasy land to imagine this...)
posted by Corvid at 1:12 PM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

The situation is a little bit of "be careful what you wish for;" his wish-fulfillment has gone beyond the fulfillment of reasonable wishes ("I want true love!") and on to irrational ones that nobody ever actually expects to happen ("I'd go for that girl, and that girl, and that one..."). There are natural consequences--job loss, stalkers, and career restrictions (can't really be a cop/teacher/medical professional when your life is like this). But I feel like I've got all that down. Again, I'm wondering if I'm just missing a core moral quandary here.

I just noticed this - here's another concern: Is this wish-fulfillment part of the magical stuff in the story?

Because if so, it means that women are being compelled to throw themselves at him even if they wouldn't otherwise. Essentially they're being mind-controlled into wanting to have sex with this guy.

Again, in real life this is entirely feasible, but under the circumstances you're describing, I can't guarantee I wouldn't find this story a little problematic. I suppose I'd have to read it to say for sure.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:19 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, do none of these women who want to have sex with our alluring hero want to continue having sex after the one night stand? If not, why not? What does he do when they develop feelings for him? I know you can say "and he's totally upfront about saying that this cannot be anything more than a one-nighter" but in real life that....tends to get complicated. Especially if there are truly large numbers of women wanting no-strings one night stands - most folks have enough trouble managing to find a single, solid FWB-type relationship, never mind tons and tons.

I suppose that you could make him a total naif, a Candide-like figure who genuinely doesn't perceive and thus does not follow social customs around sex and views it as sort of a super-duper mutual backrub. If you switched to SF and made him an alien, maybe?

The "and he just can't say no" thing seems unfeminist to me too, although not so much because it depicts men as not needing to consent. More because it seems like consent/lack of consent getting played for laughs in a way that is only funny if you're a straight guy and think that being pressured to have sex with just too many hot women would be kind of awesome, really.

Also, are all the women hot? If it's a fanfic universe where everyone is hot, yes, that is fine. But if the guy lives in reality and is incredibly alluring and charming and nice and friendly, women who are not conventionally hot may proposition him. What's he going to do? It sort of kills the awesome feminist buzz to realize that the hero is spending a lot of time discriminating amongst which of these desperate women are attractive enough to sleep with.

Again, if you're concerned about feminism, get some feminist women to read the story.
posted by Frowner at 1:22 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding the John Irving recommendation.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:34 PM on June 19, 2012

Fiction with guys like this, Mikael Blomkvist is a good example of the type, trip my skeevometer quite easily. Is he genuine or self-justifying? How big is the grey area he is exploiting? Is he aware of the moral and personal boundaries and does he ever cross them?

It's easy for this to fall into Marty-Stu territory and either sound unrealistic or self-delusional or both.
posted by bonehead at 1:42 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sssssoooo... I hesitate to explain the premise here because I don't want to look like I'm plugging my book, but what the hell. Too many of you have asked. :) Please understand that there's more going on than just the sex. Also, I've given the whole Marty Stu thing a TON of thought, and stressed over it a lot, and I'm satisfied that I've addressed that... it's just that not all of those aspects are relevant to this issue.

It's an urban fantasy book with heavy elements of comedy and steamy/smut. It involves a nice young man who inadvertently gets bound to a succubus. She's tired of being evil per se, but she's also a hedonist without much of a conscience and, as her affection for him grows, she sees no reason not to just drown him in hot women. (There's plot. No, really. There's plot and comedy, but there's also a whole lotta silly sex.) He's not hooking up with just anyone--it's not like every woman everywhere wants him--but the ones who are available and interested have very low inhibitions. Given her influence, his own inhibitions are reduced... and he knows it, and is freaked out about it.

I'm actually working on the sequel now. (The original is up on Amazon, and I won't plug it unless anyone asks me privately.) I feel like I handled this okay in the first book, but now it's a month later and it's not such an issue of novel opportunities anymore.

There's a whole lot of not-about-sex-at-all stuff that goes on about her baggage, his life as a college student, bad guys doing bad things and such, but I feel like I've got all that down. The protagonist is deeply troubled by the fact that the rules of his sex life are so far from societal norms, though, and he's trying to work toward a happy medium between his wants and hers. The sequel opens with him getting fired for screwing around at work, and while he accepts responsibility for that, he's worried about the damage it has done to his partner(s), and is realizing that just because women hit on him doesn't mean they've thought things all the way through.

FWIW: there are naturally power dynamics at play. She's 3000 years old, self-aware, strong and all that. On the one hand, he's in charge of his own life and she's trying to fit herself into it. On the other hand, she could run circles around him and they both know it.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:15 PM on June 19, 2012

There are kind of two different issues here - "Can a highly-sexed man be a good feminist?" Yeah, totally, in real life and also in fiction, although it takes some thought to portray. "Are there feminist issues with this particular work that I'm not seeing?" Honestly? Probably, although without reading it it's impossible to say. You're describing pervasive consent issues, power dynamics, and what sounds like at least one character (the succubus) with zero concern for anyone's agency, which makes for a whole minefield worth of potential problems.

It's probably not something anyone can answer here, though. I'd strongly recommend finding a feminist book reviewer in the urban fantasy genre and asking nicely if they'd give your book a read, or finding people in your life that you respect and asking for their take on it.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:55 PM on June 19, 2012

Nomad: I've done more than a little of the latter. I know a lot of smart feminist women. So far I've been given zero complaints or critiques from the ones who've read it; there's some chuckling at the issue, but it's supposed to be somewhat comedic. I've just been reluctant to take that for granted. Thank you muchly for your attention to my question. :)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:08 PM on June 19, 2012

Oh, if it's fantasy then you're definitely exempt.

I mean, some people could maybe try to make a case that it would contribute to some sort of geek-fantasy-paradigm of always-sexually-willing women or whatthefuckever, but you'll also have a lot of other people coming to your defense by saying, "um, hello, succubus curse?" And then others would be coming to your defense by pointing out that your main character is at least handling the situation honorably.

So the guy being "a lech" doesn't even strike me as something people could get upset about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:13 PM on June 19, 2012

Yes, sluts, men, and slutty men can be feminists. I agree with Mikael Blomkvist as a good example; the Millennium books overall are defiantly slut-positive. Blomkvist's definitely a bit of an Author Avatar fantasy, an average-looking guy who has a long-term happy polyamorous relationship AND a steady stream of attractive women wanting to sleep with him. But I like Blomkvist a lot nonetheless because his sluttiness is good-natured; he treats women as people and stays professional when needed, he's open about his intentions, he accepts rejection gracefully and doesn't press his attentions on uninterested women. And he's neither constantly on the prowl for sex nor jumping to hook up just for sex: Some of the women he sleeps with Blomkvist hasn't known long, but they've all engaged with him in conversation first as people with their own stories, and they all catch his attention by being intelligent, interesting women (if not necessarily nice). On the other hand Blomkvist also works because we're shown the downsides of his romantic policies: he has past failed romances that broke over his polyamory; in the books his relationship with an important character is badly damaged because he misjudges how meaningful sex is to her. We also get to see the mixed feelings of jealousy and acceptance from the POV of his long-term girlfriend / editor.

Oh, if it's fantasy then you're definitely exempt.

Well, maybe yes, maybe no. It's tone deaf to go "Oh well, a SUCCUBUS curse, you can't argue with a sexy succubus curse!" because the author's the person who put the sexy succubus in the story in the first place. And the sexy succubi trope exists in the first place because people literally believed that evil, slutty, demon women (associated with the misogynist folklore of Lilith) visited human men in their sleep to steal their male precious bodily fluids--succubi do not have a proud history with feminism, is what I'm sayin'.

A succubi curse itself is problematic because it's essentially a magical roofie drug given to these women. The curse isn't real, the fantasy situation it causes is never going to happen in real life, but since it's entirely metaphor you have to measure it against comparable situations where removal of a woman's agency = harming her ability to consent = sexual assault.

Scaryblackdeath, your fictional feminist succubi scenario can work. But honestly I would pass on your book as described (and maybe I'm not your audience, which is fine) unless a friend or reviewer I trusted vetted it for me first, because It's Been Done played boringly straight so many times and Piers Anthony has basically skeeved me on the winknudge genre forever. I'd pick up the book only if it appeared to experiment with the succubi genre in fresh ways: for instance TV show Lost Girl is a succubific subversion with the succubus as the sympathetic main character; popular Supernatural fanfic The Glamorous Life is a succubific deconstruction that plays out the consent issues to their inherent ugly conclusions.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:05 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I certainly agree that being in a fantasy genre doesn't make the characters exempt from morality or logical consequences. It goes a long way toward suspension of disbelief, but that doesn't mean the people (and even the succubus) aren't still people with human emotions.

To be clear: there's explicitly nothing rapey or manipulative about why women like to jump my protagonist, or why he has a hard time denying it. The truth is that he loves sex and he's got some self-control doubts, but he isn't being assaulted in any literal sense, and not every woman swoons for his magnetism. (I'm very much against rape being portrayed lightly or for comedy; there's one case of attempted rape in the beginning of the first book, but it's prevented and the attackers die horribly.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:14 PM on June 19, 2012

The sentence, "I'll screw anything in a skirt," is profoundly de-humanizing and indicates to me a problematic attitude towards women, no matter what sort of character you're inhabiting or how much sex he is having.

I note that you did not say "I'll screw anyone in a skirt."
posted by macinchik at 11:39 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is he screwing anyone who is not good looking and between the ages of 19 and 33? Is he falling in love with any of those people and stepping up to make a relationship (of some sort) work with them? Most of the slutty men I know who I still think of as feminists are able to retain their feminist street cred because of their choice in women. These men, with all believability, getting past all my most stringent BS meters, are attracted to many types of women and not just for sex. They actually do form emotional attachments to some of the women, and it's NOT only with the pretty and young ones with a certain type of face and body. It's this latter point that makes or breaks the feminism for me. A guy who fucks a variety of women for sport, and has relationships only with June Cleaver between the ages of 24 and 28, is the pinnacle of disgusting to me. He is choosing in the most powerful and intimate way (in his relationships) to uphold the assessment of woman as being only "ok" in a very narrow range of age, appearance, lifestyle, etc. Being not really a female otherwise.

On the contrary, I knew a supremely slutty guy who was in long term love with a 6'3'' girl who has Asperger syndrome and shaves her head from time to time, and considered a LTR with someone who was 8 years older than him (but she turned him down). When he describes what he loves about the 6'3'' girl, not a single one of his descriptors has to do with her physical appearance. Not one. It's impressive. And his love and commitment to her is absolutely believable. That guy is a feminist.

I am more prone to write someone off as not-feminist-enough for me if all his girlfriends are identical clones of the latest narrowly defined fashion model with an appropriate face and personality, even if he only fucks 3 women per year. And if the first thing he says he loves about her is that she's beautiful.
posted by killiancourt at 11:17 AM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your update changes things a lot. Asking if a man can be feminist in a book with a succubus is kind of like asking if a white guy can be a civil rights activist in a King Kong movie.
posted by Jairus at 11:48 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think this is a fascinating character you've got here (if you're talking about something fictional). People are not machines. Their internal contradictions create the conflicts that drive good fiction. Why try to make the guy "work" better? Why normalize him? As Martin Amis once said, success is boring - people who strive and fail make the most interesting characters to read about.

Actually, from a fictional standpoint, your guy isn't that odd - in fact he sounds like a classic anti-hero in the mold of the characters of Martin Amis and Milan Kundera.

This is just the kind of character you want as a protagonist - a conflicted guy with a strong life-force who is full of self-contradiction and doubt, but who is also capable of moments of euphoria and flashes of meaning. Think of what he'll be capable of!

And just a suggestion - listen to Beethoven's late quartets while you're writing his story. I think you'll find some correspondences - Beethoven's personal confession in his late works is full of the most intensely person kind of searching. There's everything in this music - deep longing, profound regret, agonizing questioning, flashes of hope, moments of sexual and spiritual euphoria - and inklings of a world beyond the one we can see.

So don't change anything about this guy. Just go for it!
posted by cartoonella at 1:33 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

So the thing that I've really gotten out of this discussion is that I need to find a moment for my succubus character to have to defend herself for being such an icon of misogyny... :)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:39 PM on June 20, 2012

Well, that's one option. You could also just write the plot other characters such that it's clear that both you and they are aware of and don't approve of the succubus's less savory actions. You're allowed to have a villain who is not feminist - the question is whether or not the narrative really supports an unfeminist setup or not. This is why this specific question can't be answered by people who haven't read your actual book.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:44 PM on June 20, 2012

(Just as a side-note - I find Milan Kundera's books not only intensely misogynist but just about as squicky and gross as novels can be - I feel like I'm covered with a thin film of ick after reading them. So I mean, don't take Kundera as your model under the impression that his way of writing about women is feminist. There's a certain type of guy writer who just...doesn't know anything about how women actually are, but really, really thinks he does. Women are "sensual" or they are "repressing their sensuality", etc. (also, avoid describing people as "sensual", just ftr.))
posted by Frowner at 4:51 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

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